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Mischievous McAdams in LACE Filmforum Finale

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Holiday Magic: Films by Heather McAdams,” screening tonight at 8 at Los Angeles Cultural Exhibitions as Filmforum’s final program for the year, is a mischievous delight in which the experimental filmmaker and animator displays her special knack for subverting the images of found footage with wit, humor and pertinence.

The program takes its title from “Holiday Magic” (1985), a deft send-up of the ways in which women in the ‘50s and ‘60s were made to feel that they must at all times and at all costs maintain an aura of artificial glamour. As we hear pioneer Hollywood makeup artist Perc Westmore drone on about beauty tips, we’re treated to a deliberately jarring collage of stills and clips reminding us of how straitjacketed and lacquered women were unquestionably expected to be in their appearance in the not-so-distant past.

In the key film of the program, “Meet . . . Bradley Harrison Picklesimer” (1988), McAdams again plays around with found footage to frame her affectionate portrait of Picklesimer, a canny, gutsy Lexington, Ky., drag queen who eventually loses his local cafe, winds up homeless in West Palm Beach yet is not at all defeated.

Picklesimer sees himself as a minority within a minority because he never pretends that he is not a male nor does he assume a woman’s name; he is in fact proud that the drag performers at his club have never taken hormones or had breast implants. Because he’s a free spirit, he seems more natural, even with glitter in his mascara, than the women in “Holiday Magic.” (213) 276-7452.

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The Academy/UCLA Contemporary Documentary Series continues Tuesday at 8 p.m. in UCLA’s Melnitz Theater with Charles Guggenheim’s Oscar-nominated “The Johnstown Flood” (1989) and Bill Couturie, Robert Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s Oscar-winning “Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt” (1989).

On May, 31, 1889, the bustling, prosperous steel mill city of Johnstown, Pa., experienced a flash flood that cost 2,100 lives and vast destruction. In a mere 26 minutes, Guggenheim meticulously evokes the disaster and the events leading up to it through a seamless blend of stills and re-created moments shot in a rich, high-contrast black and white. We learn that the flood occurred simply because a group of Pittsburgh titans, including Andrew Carnegie, Henry Clay Frick and Andrew Mellon, neglected to shore up the dam at their mountain retreat some 14 miles upriver from Johnstown; indeed, they even lowered it three feet so that their carriages might pass over it!

The film generates a terrific you-are-there immediacy but leaves you wanting more.

Finally, it’s a bit fatuous to end the film with the statement: “Today Johnstown lives on” when, as a rust belt community, it is one of the country’s most economically depressed cities.

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The recent AIDS-related death of gay activist/film historian and critic Vito Russo inevitably adds poignancy and sorrow to the revival of “Common Threads.” The fiery and eloquent Russo was one of five people the filmmakers asked to discuss the loss of loved ones on camera; their words were then interwoven with clips from TV news programs to chart both the relentless progress of the disease during the last decade and the inadequacy of the government’s response to it.

This splendidly understated film confronts us with the reality of AIDS with such simplicity and directness that it is hard to imagine how the enormous tragedy of this disease could be expressed with greater impact. (213) 206-FILM, 206-8013.


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